21 May Memorial Day and Defining “Heroes”
For many of us, our earliest memories of Memorial Day are of a hometown parade, marching bands, picnics, and evening fireworks. It wasn’t until we grew older that we learned to appreciate the sacrifices made by those groups of veterans – some with bodies bent and twisted by time and war – had made on our collective behalf.
Setting aside the speeches and the accolades for the moment, consider this: the average age of an active duty soldier is 21 years old.
That is an age at which – in civilian life – they are considered barely capable of holding a driver’s license. Many employers would hesitate to give an employee that age any significant responsibility, much less put them in charge of other employees. Yet, at 21 years old, many of the young men and women in military service are being leaders; tasked with inspiring and motivating their peers to perform to high standards of consistency, integrity, and excellence.
We often refer to our military personnel as “heroes” – but how often do we look for heroic qualities in the people around us? How often do we fail to remember that our “heroes” are just ordinary men and women who rose to the challenge of the moment?
In fact, the people around us may embody qualities of a hero but we fail to recognize those qualities either because we aren’t looking, or because we don’t expect to find heroic qualities in everyday people.
Whether or not you have ever served, there’s a key leadership lesson to be learned here that can be applied to business: Anyone may have the capacity to be a hero.
In business, we too often make assumptions about the capabilities of our employees based on a job title, or a particular skill set that they possess (or don’t), or their age. We assume older employees will be resistant to new media and technologies, or that young employees aren’t ready to lead a team.
But the fastest-growing group of social media and new tech are aged 55 years and older, and the annual lists of “30 under 30” demonstrate that leadership is not confined to grizzled veterans of commerce.
The leadership lesson is clear: don’t sell your people short.
Give them an opportunity to shine, no matter what your private expectations are of their generation, experience, education, or any of the other countless “qualities” we use to create labels for those around us.
Take the time to get to know your people, and insist that your managers do the same. And tear the labels off your expectations. Anyone on your team can be a business “hero” if – like the military – you give them a chance to shine.